When people think of Florida, they typically think of crowded beaches and loud, expensive theme parks. Did you know the Sunshine State has beautiful, natural national parks to visit too? It sure does! And in this article, we’re taking a look at the best national parks in Florida you won’t want to miss on your next vacation.
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How Many National Parks Are There in Florida?
You might have heard of some of the national parks in Florida, but there are likely a few you didn’t know existed. If you aren’t aware, there are far more national park units across the U.S. than just the 63 that formally include “National Park” in their name. In Florida, there are 11 National Park Service units.
Best National Parks in Florida
With so many parks to choose from, you might be wondering where to start. You could set a goal to hit all 11, but if you only have time for a few, here are the best national parks in Florida that we recommend.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Location: Approximately 70 miles west of Key West, Florida
About: Dry Tortugas National Park is a 100-square-mile park consisting of mostly open water and seven small islands that you can only access by boat or seaplane. It became an official National Park on January 4th, 1935, and averages 64,000 annual visitors. The park is also a part of the UNESCO Everglades & Dry Tortugas Biosphere Reserve established in 1976.
What to Do: Dry Tortugas National Park is considered one of the best National Parks in Florida for a good reason. This is because of its amazing natural beauty and Fort Jefferson, the massive 19th-century fort that dominates the seven otherwise pristine Dry Tortugas islands.
Be sure to bring gear to swim in the beautiful blue waters and snorkel amongst the most undisturbed coral reef in the Florida Keys. You’ll also be sure to enjoy the diverse marine and bird watching.
Although it’s a lesser-known secret, you can overnight tent camp within the park as well. That said, you must be able to carry everything, and it’s vital to pack in and pack out. But camping here makes for a unique experience!
Morton Road Trip Rating: 9/10 – This is a beautiful and unique park with lots to do. However, the only thing that reduces its rating is accessibility.
Unlike many other national parks, you cannot simply drive to this park, and the boat or plane ride there can be pricey. These additional costs don’t make it the most cost-friendly national park, but it’s certainly worth your time!
Everglades National Park
Location: 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead, Florida 33034
About: Everglades National Park earned its national designation in 1979. It is the biggest national park in Florida and is the third-largest national park in size.
It receives almost 1 million visitors each year to see the protected remaining 20% of the original Everglades of Florida. The area the national park encompasses protects a fragile ecosystem of wetlands and forests that serves as breeding grounds for wading birds, habitat for a number of threatened species, and a place of recharge for the majority of South Florida’s fresh water.
What to Do: Some of the most popular activities at this Florida national park include biking, kayaking, fishing, and camping. Visitors will enjoy several hiking trails and have the unique experience of two canoe trails.
One of the more popular trails is the Anhinga Trail. You can access this 0.8-mile hike from the Royal Palm Visitor Center, and it features plenty of wildlife viewing. You can see alligators, turtles, herons, and many other birds, depending on the season.
Another popular attraction is the Shark Valley Tram Tour. It’s a narrated two-hour loop into the “River of Grass.”
Just remember to bring your bug spray and some insect repellant-infused clothing – the mosquitos can get fierce!
Morton Road Trip Rating: 8/10 – Everglades National Park provides excellent wildlife viewing and the opportunity to experience a marshy landscape. While the hikes are not strenuous, they offer an experience you likely won’t find elsewhere. Anyone who wants to see wetland creatures up close won’t be disappointed in their visit!
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Location: 1801 Gulf Breeze Parkway, Gulf Breeze, FL 32563. Along the Florida Panhandle.
About: Gulf Islands earned its national park designation on January 8th, 1971. Now, about 5.6 million visitors enjoy the area every year. There are four visitor centers in which you can gather more information from rangers. Three are in Florida, and one is in Mississippi.
This national seashore not only preserves gorgeous sandy beaches, but the unique history this areas has seen. Over 400,000 archaeological artifacts and 8,000 historical objects are preserved in the Gulf Islands NS Museum. This just scratches the surface on this area’s history dating back to pre-contact Native Americans and up to today.
What to Do: Visitors will enjoy walking on beautiful white-sand beaches and swimming in the sparkling blue-green water. If adventure is what you’re after, check out the historic forts. Fort Barrancas and Fort Pickens will leave you feeling like you’ve taken a step back in history.
Stretch your legs on seven miles worth of trails. Even if beaches aren’t your thing, you’ll have plenty to fill your time discovering Florida’s Gulf Shores.
Plus, there are two developed campgrounds at this national seashore park in Florida.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 8/10 – While there’s a diversity of activity options, those who favor beach experiences will appreciate this park most. A significant benefit of this park is that you can easily access it from many Florida and Mississippi locations.
Biscayne National Park
Location: 9700 SW 328th Street, Sir Lancelot Jones Way, Homestead, FL 33033. South of Miami, and comprises the northernmost Florida Keys.
About: Biscayne National Park was established on June 28th, 1980 to protect the unique ecosystem of waters, islands, and coral reefs located off the Atlantic Coast in southern Florida. The islands in the park are technically the northernmost Florida Keys.
The park receives almost half a million visitors each year and is approximately 173,000 square acres. Biscayne protects a rare combination of waters, islands, and coral reefs.
What to Do: This is a park for water lovers. Visitors will enjoy a day of boating while here. Besides the mainland visitor center and a single jetty, Biscayne National Park is only accessible via boat as the park is 95% water.
Guided tours and experiences are available from the Dante Fascell Visitor Center. The Maritime Heritage Trail also provides access to some amazing snorkeling and diving to shipwrecks!
Offshore reefs and waters are home to more than 500 species of fish, birds, whales, and corals. There are 16 endangered species at the park. Visitors might even catch a glimpse of a sea turtle. Kayaking is a great way to view the wildlife at Biscayne. If fishing is your thing, you’ll enjoy the many fishing opportunities as well.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 8/10 – It’s easy to forget that beautiful corals and sea creatures exist in the lower 48. You don’t have to hop on a plane or boat to the Caribbean to experience these gorgeous waters.
Florida visitors must be comfortable on and near water to fully appreciate exploring this national park.
Canaveral National Seashore
Location: 212 S Washington Ave, Titusville, FL 32796
About: Canaveral National Seashore became a park on January 3rd, 1975 to protect 25 miles of priceless and scenic seashore on a barrier island off the Atlantic coast of Florida. The park averages just over a million visitors a year.
What to Do: While the park was originally established to preserve the beautiful beach and dunes, it is also now known for its proximity to the Kennedy Space Center.
One of the best things to do while visiting Canaveral National Seashore is watching a rocket launch from the beach. It’s an experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life! Look up the launch schedule for your visit dates, so you don’t miss this fantastic experience.
Those up for an adventure should consider camping at an island on Mosquito Lagoon. However, you will need a permit for this backcountry camping.
Visitors shouldn’t miss the ancient Timucua Native American Mounds either. The history is worth viewing!
Morton Road Trip Rating: 7/10 – As if the incredible beaches weren’t enough, the opportunity to see a rocket launch and glimpse some of Florida’s history makes this park a priority when visiting The Sunshine State.
Enjoy Florida’s National Parks!
The next time you make your way to Florida for warmth and sunshine, enjoy all the National Park Service units have to offer. Are you someone who gravitates towards water activities, or do you prefer to stay on the seashore? Either way, we know you’ll have a wonderful time!
Want to explore even more of Florida’s natural beauty? Here are the 7 Best Natural Springs in Florida You Need to Visit.
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